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Bug slows impeachment e-mail to House members

December 16, 1998
Web posted at: 3:45 PM EST

by Sandra Gittlen and Jason Meserve


(IDG) -- A bug in Microsoft's e-mail server software couldn't have surfaced at a worse time for the U.S. House of Representatives.

Just as House members were preparing for their vote on impeachment, constituent e-mail messages began dropping into a void because of the glitch, which sends Microsoft Exchange servers into a continuous loop.

The bug affected two of the House's 14 servers, which run Exchange 4.0 on Windows NT 4.0, according to Jason Poblete, a spokesman for the House Oversight Committee. Poblete said the House received more than 1 million e-mail messages yesterday, double what it received Monday.

"The bug kept e-mail in a continuous loop without delivering them," Poblete said. As soon as House technical staff noticed the problem, they contacted Microsoft, which was able to fix the "programming bug" and return the House system to normal.

However, some offices are still waiting for backlogged mail.

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"We haven't received any e-mail since Monday," said Carey Dearnley, press secretary for Rep. George Gekas (R - Pa.), a House Judiciary Committee member.

Gekas' staff had just posted an e-mail address for constituent feedback on Monday. But Paul Griffin, systems coordinator for Gekas, said he didn't publicize the e-mail address because he couldn't handle the possible flood of e-mail.

Congressman Ed Markey's office also has noticed a slowdown in e-mail traffic this week, despite a dramatic increase in the use of the medium by constituents.

"This morning there were only three outside messages in e-mail," said David Moulton, chief of staff for Markey (D - Mass.). "So [constituents are] definitely having trouble getting through."

Too little too late

Ironically, the House was a month away from upgrading to Exchange 5.5, a system it had been testing for several months, Poblete said. "Exchange 5.5 corrects the looping problem," he said.

"We're the hub of democracy, we're supposed to get a lot of e-mail," Poblete said.

The House has a centralized e-mail facility that funnels e-mail to and from its more than 10,000 users, who include representatives and their support staffs.

Each House member has a server at his or her office that retrieves the e-mail from the House servers. Poblete said a slowdown could be occurring there, as well.

Some representatives remained unaffected because they don't use e-mail, such as Barney Frank (D-Mass.).

"With e-mail, there's no way to tell for sure if the person is writing from your district," said David Moulton, Frank's chief of staff.

Sandra Gittlen, reporter and Jason Meserve, staff writer work at Network World Fusion.

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